20 Feb 2012

Middle class paint

Great article here by Amie Tsang in the weekend's FT on Heritage Paints.

It all started when Farrow & Ball launched a National Trust range in 1991. F&B have grown from strength to strength on the back of this and last year had a turnover of £42m, and they now export to France, USA, Germany and Holland. Then along came Patrick Baty who runs Paper & Paints and who started Little Greene, a me-too business which aligned itself with English Heritage.

Then Crown and Dulux got in on the act — look for Heritage ranges — and then Fired Earth, Sanderson, Zoffany and Designer's Guild. Oh God, I'm getting lost. There's more here in a Telegraph article from 2006.

So what's the deal? Well, they cost about twice as much as ordinary paint — the going rate seems to be around £50-£60 for 5lts — but they are better made in that they have more pigments in them. At least, that is, according to Kevin McCloud. But then he has lent his name to the Fired Earth range so he just might not be a reliable reporter on such matters.

What about authenticity? Well it's here that Amie's article begins to sing because she has taken the trouble to interview a number of experts who all end up saying much the same thing. Which is pretty much that they don't really know how authentic the colours are because everything tends to fade. She quotes Helen Hughes, a paint archaeologist — there's a job I never knew existed — who says "traditionally, it was just a man with a bucket, mixing on site." Now that's how I used to make cement!

So what we get is a modern take on what we imagine traditional paints were like, but without the lead and arsenic and other nasties that were commonly used.

Does it matter that they are not authentic? Of course not. It's all a marketing exercise. What you are buying here is taste. Use these and you are unlikely to make a horrible mistake with your colour schemes. Whereas in the bad old days we used to slap on magnolia everywhere because you'd never go wrong, now you can pay the premium and use a heritage paint and it'll look cool. I'm surprised John Lewis haven't got in on the act. To date, they only sell Sanderson's paints.


  1. Good article, gave me a chuckle! I have to say, as interior designer I have used all sorts of paint and, hand on heart, Fired Earth by far is the best. It may cost twice as much but it spreads more evenly, goes further and much stronger colour. So, I always say, particularly if you are paying someone to paint your house go with the expensive paint as it will save you in labour time. Plus, looks waaaaay better. Just my two cents ;)

  2. Mark, As someone with breathing and allergy problems, what interests me about paint more than whether it's `original' colours or not is what solvents are in the paint (of course, that's as well as the obvious `how well does it go on with a brush?' aspect and `how well does it last?'). I hear about so-called eco-paints but wonder if they are really any good as paint. Ordinary emulsion isn't too bad but gloss paints still seem noxious. In the past I tried `solvent'free' paint on window ledges and had to scrape it all off and start over again with old-fashioned gloss. Perhaps the only difference now is that I'll end up scraping off expensive paint!


  3. I thought that the benefit of these paints were that they have less toxic chemicals in them. They certainly are less smelly. But then they do scuff easier.

  4. Great article, I have noticed this trend!It seems that there is a revival of the traditional at the moment.

  5. A wry smile, thanks for sharing, we can do without completely authentic paint as you say. No lead please. Thanks for posting this amusing article.